August 14, 1988

Fly-fishing, by all indications, is in the throes of a popularity surge—mainly among young urban professionals who think it's neat to own all that exotic gear. But there's more to the sport than boron rods, overstuffed fly vests and hip-hugging neoprene waders. Two new books explore the age-old complexities of fly-fishing on its most fascinating levels: the practical and the philosophical.

Tom Rosenbauer's Reading Trout Streams: An Orvis Guide (Nick Lyons Books, $17.95 hardcover. $11.95 paperback) is a clear, no-nonsense look at "trout lies"—not the kind anglers tell each other, but where fish hang out in running water. Working from a trout's basic needs—food, protective cover, oxygen, spawning ground—Rosenbauer breaks down a stream into its component neighborhoods. He knows them well, having fished the fly since he was 10 and having majored in fisheries biology at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York at Syracuse. From pools and riffles through flats and "pocket water" to bends, undercut banks and plunge pools, he points out just where to drop a fly with the best chance of hooking a fish.

"In some rivers," Rosenbauer writes, "more large trout are caught...within a foot of the bank than in the remaining parts of the river combined. Banks provide shelter, food and protection from the current—but some part of the main current, the buffet line, must flow nearby." Given a choice, trout will lie in slow-moving water and grab their food as it whizzes past on this "buffet line" of faster current. The break between these currents is often marked by visible "seams" or "bubble lines." That's the target zone.

In stream water, a trout's most common enemy is birds. "Herons, ospreys, kingfishers, and mergansers are the major predators of adult trout, and all of them attack from above.... Overhead cover can be an object that looks insubstantial to us," Rosenbauer writes. "At the upper end [of a Snake River tributary] is a barbed wire fence, three single strands that divide private [property] and BLM [Bureau of Land Management] land. Yet there are sometimes half a dozen cutthroats over three pounds directly under the wire, as those flimsy wires are enough to foil the attempts of even the most efficient bird of prey. And if you want to pick up a dozen Pale Morning Dun flies in size 18 [for free], I've left enough of them swinging from those wires to last you a season."

In locating what should from now on be called a stream's "R Spots," Rosenbauer shows how to tickle her and make her laugh and yield trout. Even veteran anglers can learn from his book.

If Mark Twain were alive and a modern-day fly-fisherman, he still would be hard put to top John Gierach in the one-liner department. Gierach's Trout Bum blew like a Rocky Mountain high through the stuffy boardrooms of fly-fishing prose two years ago, establishing him as the Angling Aphorist of the '80s. A bearded, 40ish Midwesterner who landed in Lyons, Colo., during his counterculture days, Gierach got hooked on fly tying, split-cane rods, trout and writing about them. In college he majored in philosophy—no doubt the philosophy of the absurd. Now he's back with The View from Rat Lake (Pruett, $7.95), a collection of essays which for wit and depth of feeling put the bum's rush on even Trout Bum.

•Gierach on no-kill moralists: "In every catch-and-release fisherman's past there is an old, black frying pan."

•On angling's raison d'‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√ë¢tre: "One of the things we truly fish for [is] an occasion for self-congratulation."

•On the hope for a united environmental front: "Too often the hunters and flower huggers won't even speak to each other, and fishermen are seen by both as too weird and snobbish to deal with."

•On angling tradition: "To do it right you'd have to live naked in a cave, hit your trout on the head with rocks, and eat them raw. But, so as not to violate another essential element of...tradition, the rocks would have to be quarried in England and cost $300 each."

•On dry-fly snobs: "We...believe that a 12-inch trout caught on a dry fly is four inches longer than a 12-inch trout caught on a nymph or streamer."

•On fishing cars: "One lesson was that four-wheel-drive doesn't mean you can go anywhere, it just means you can get stuck in worse places."

•On backwoods "bearanoia": "Often you don't see, hear, or smell anything even mildly suspicious, but are nonetheless struck by the unreasoning certainty that you are about to be killed and eaten by a 1,500-pound, drooling, carnivorous animal. A half-pint of adrenaline enters your cerebral cortex, and that's hard to describe, too."

The only hard thing about The View from Rat Lake comes when you reach the final page.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)